The 3 Foods you need to Stop Eating when feeling Anxious
Advice from a Nutritionist that have seen people finally getting their joy back
Not only I have seen it all, but when it comes to stress and anxiety, I have experienced it all.
Nine years ago, I was sitting in my office, responding to one of the thousands of emails that were sitting in my inbox; they were all flagged as urgent and all unanswered. I was sipping on the second cup of strong coffee, although it was only 9 am, as I stayed out late and drank my youth until the wee hours of the morning. I remember passing out in my bed with makeup and shoes on, until the beeping sound of my alarm clock took me back to life.
And then “bip”, a text message on my phone; that text message that I didn’t want to receive, as it was too painful, too personal. That kind of text message that can change the course of your life in a matter of seconds (and I’m not melodramatic).
I stood up and went to the bathroom, as I felt a shooting pain in my chest that prevented me from breathing; I walked myself to the coffee shop to get some fresh air. It was a typical Australian summer; there was no breeze, it was stinking hot, and all my curls were sticking to my neck in a puddle of sweat.
I walked back to the office with another coffee in my trembling hand, and I sat down, feeling that the room, and all universe, were closing on me. I was feeling confused, my thoughts cluttered, and I started hyperventilating.
Next thing I remember, an unkind paramedic was standing on top of me, telling me to breathe into a bag; I lost consciousness, and I woke up in a hospital room, where a gorgeous surfer/ nurse said to me that it was going to be all fine. I closed my eyes and slept.
That was my first panic attack and the tipping point that changed my life for the better.
I had to let go of the things that I was trying to control, and couldn’t. I had to go back to smooth and lung filling breathing. I had to break up with the wrong friends and bad habits.
What did I do?
I signed up for a yoga class, and I started by changing my diet.
Some of you may roll your eyes now, thinking that our food choices don’t play such a huge role when it comes to anxiety and stress. Think again.
It is true that we are not what we eat. We are what we absorb, and when we are stressed, we don’t absorb anything.
I adopted a mindfulness practice every time I ate, meaning that I would allow myself time to watch, smell and savour my foods, so that I could support all those marvellous enzymes my digestive process, the healing of my gut, and nervous system.
To be able to recover entirely, this is what I had to get rid of.
Bye, bye, coffee
Coffee was the hardest thing to let go of, as my body was depending on that adrenaline and cortisol kick in the morning and throughout the day. My adrenal glands were completely depleted and weren’t able to do their job.
When I talk about coffee, I mean caffeine. This includes black tea, chai, chocolate, and energy drinks, medications, and pre-packaged foods. Caffeine exhausts and depletes the adrenals, and increases the level of anxiety.
Caffeine limits vary widely, but it is better not to exceed 200 mg of caffeine per day. When exhausted and wired, caffeine has to go completely.
Caffeine act as a diuretic momentarily increases the level of cortisol, leaches calcium out of the system, and it can deplete the body even further.
The first three days were hell, as I had a splitting headache; that’s when I realised I couldn’t go cold turkey, so I cut down caffeine instead of eliminating it completely. It took me more than three months to slowly, slowly kick the habit, but the most amazing thing that I noticed was that my hunger increased, and so did my energy. Moreover, all the gut issues I had experienced for years, disappeared almost entirely.
I was relying on that glass of wine (or many) at night; I enjoyed going out and living the life, and alcohol was also the best way to numb my emotions.
Many people believe that having an alcoholic drink will help them feel more relaxed. However, drinking alcohol when anxious could be making things worse.
Alcohol acts as a sedative, so it can help you feel more at ease. However, this benefit is short-lived. When we drink alcohol, it disrupts the balance of chemicals and processes in the brain. The relaxed feeling you experience when you have your first drink is due to the chemical changes alcohol causes in your brain. The alcohol starts to depress the part of the brain that we associate with inhibition.
But these effects wear off fast, and pleasant feelings fade.
A likely side-effect of this is that the more you drink, the greater your tolerance for alcohol will be. Over time you may need to drink more alcohol to get the same feeling. In the long term, this pattern of drinking may affect your mental health (NHS 2017). I swapped to mocktails and enjoyed one glass of wine once a week, and only while having dinner and in the company of other people. It was amazing to notice how the brain fog that lingered on me full time lifted in a matter of days.
Big news, right? Unfortunately, sugar creates a vicious cycle.
You eat a muffin, your blood sugar spikes up and then crushes, so you get a coffee or a lolly, and you go through the day having spikes of blood sugar, to then get to the end of the day feeling wired and exhausted, needing a glass of wine to calm your monkey brain. Does it sound familiar?
In the long term, excessive sugar intake, and high levels of stress may lead to insulin resistance, weight management issues, thyroid and hormonal problems.
While anxious, I kept on eating the natural sugar, the one that comes from fibrous and delicious apples, or crunchy carrots. I stayed away from unnecessary foods such as cinnamon buns and the like. Not forever (I love my weekly croissant now), but until my body felt safe and calm again.
Avoid compensatory tools
When I got extremely anxious, I would skip meals and restrict my caloric intake. I instantly felt lighter, although my heart and mind were heavy as a ton of brick.
Other people swing to the opposite extreme and binge their faces on sweet and comforting foods. Others tend to exercise compulsively until they have no energy left, and a brain still full of anxious thoughts.
If you take part in one of the above categories, I highly recommend you talk to a professional, as there is no need to go through this process alone.
These four tips can change your life and health entirely, in so many ways. At the same time, it is also essential to move, especially in nature, to drink plenty of water, to sleep like a log, and to laugh as much as a 4-year-old kid.
But if you don’t know where to start, avoiding coffee, alcohol, and sugar is a significant first step whenever you want to welcome balance and joy into your life.